Part of podcast culture right now is the common joke that everyone has a podcast.
“Podcasts are easy,” people tend to think. “Anyone can make one.”
It's true that podcasting has a low barrier for entry, meaning anyone can finally get their message out without having to worry about the costs of making a film or the hurdles of the publication industry.
Podcasting is usually only “easy,” though, if you're falling into some common mistakes.
Like any medium, it takes time and effort to make sure you're producing something worth engaging in. That means taking stock of the things other podcasters aren't doing too well and trying to do them better yourself.
Luckily, just by avoiding these mistakes, you'll be setting yourself up for success.
It's going to take some work, but hey – you don't want to be just another “everyone” with a podcast.
Have Rough Drafts
It's okay to have a period early on when you find your footing–but consider making more episodes than you initially release so you can find ways to be consistent. Sometimes, it's better to learn by taking the leap and learn by doing.
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If you'll have an audience when you launch, though–if you have a pre-existing presence, fanbase, or business to promote–you'll want to start with your best foot forward.
That might mean scrapping some of your earlier episodes that don't fit into the style you want to stick with. That's okay! As a podcaster, you're allowed to have rough drafts.
Record episodes as if you were going to actually release them, and then send those episodes out to people you know and trust. Ask those people questions like, “Did you get bored at any point while listening?” “How was our audio quality?”, and “Were there any discussions you couldn't follow?”
If your rough draft listeners send you back totally positive feedback and you feel happy with the episodes, great!
If not, think about how you can refine. You don't have to re-record the same episode beat by beat, but think about it when you record your next potential episode.
Don't think of this like a waste of time; think of it as a way to make sure your podcast is up to snuff on episode one.
If this is your first podcast and you want some tailored guidance, you could also consider hiring a consultant or someone to help you with production. This means you'll have the advantage of getting started soon, but you'll also have someone to give you some help and feedback along the way.
It's amazing how much time (and headaches) you can save in the long run by avoiding a few common pitfalls in the early days.
There's a good reason consistency is one of the primary pieces of advice you'll get when you start a podcast.
Listeners want to know what to expect when they first subscribe, whether it's upload schedule, topics of discussion, tone, or episode length.
Having rough drafts will help you find consistency, but your schedule should also be planned out before you even start recording.
Think about how often you can feasibly and responsibly put episodes out. There's a good chance your first podcast isn't going to be your full-time job. You might be working, trying to have a social life, taking care of your family, and podcasting all at once.
Maybe that means putting out a quality episode every week just isn't going to work for your schedule. Trying to force it is going to make you rush to put out episodes you're not proud of.
Set the Tone
Think about what sort of tone you want for your podcast.
Is it going to be clean, educational, and intellectually stimulating like 99% Invisible?
Is it going to be laid back and conversational like Oh No Ross and Carrie?
There's a reason My Brother, My Brother and Me has a “no bummers” rule at their live shows, making sure nobody asks a sad or serious question and deflates the comedy's podcast's goofy humor: you want to maintain a consistent tone that your listeners can rely on.
If your listener is expecting comedy and the episode turns out dark, they're going to feel like you just pulled the rug out from under them.
If your podcast is typically a bit more serious, an episode that's a bit silly could make it seem like you're being too casual.
This isn't to say that you have absolutely no freedom in changing up your format or tone, though. You can do special episodes with a different feeling than usual–just make sure you mark them as specifically special episodes.
Look to podcasts like Join the Party for examples on this. In Join the Party, four friends play Dungeons and Dragons. After each main episode, they have a second episode of discussion, and they label these as “Afterparty” episodes.
Sometimes, they want to do interviews with someone in the industry, and they label these “Punch Bowl” episodes. This signals to the listener that these episodes are going to be different, which helps set expectations before the episode even starts.
Know Your Medium
Something that's taught in many creative writing classes is that it's hard to be a great writer if you're not a great reader. The same goes for podcasts.
Listen to podcasts voraciously. Think about what those podcasts do that you could be doing too. Don't steal ideas, but think about how you could make certain concepts your own.
Really love the way Myths and Legends has a main conversation and a monster of the week? Maybe you should start using segments.
Really love the sound design in an audio drama, even if you're not making an audio drama? Think about how you could incorporate higher levels of sound design to make your conversations more immersive.
Really love the way Chris Gethard gets his callers to open up in Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People? Think about how you could be more vulnerable and authentic with your guests.
Listen to podcasts from all different genres and styles and see what inspires you. The podcast industry is huge, which means there's plenty of people out there doing brilliant things you might not have thought up yet.
Also be sure to be familiar with your podcast's niche, though. Listening to other podcasts that are similar to yours will help you know how to set yourself apart. What makes your podcast unique? Are you treading the same path as everyone else in your sphere?
The only way to ensure you're standing out is to listen to the other podcasts like yours and learn from them, too.
Sound Quality Is Key
One of the most common reasons listeners drop podcasts early on is the sound quality.
Podcasting has a lower barrier to entry than film or TV, but it does have some up front costs that you should be thinking of before you start.
Luckily, high-quality microphones are much cheaper than they once were. You do not need a radio-quality microphone at any point when you record. Most podcasters don't have fancy recording setups with professional microphones and sound booths.
Think about the microphones that fit best into your budget, and be sure to check our round-up of the best mics at different price points.
Microphones aren't all you should be thinking of, though. You also need to think about where you're going to record. The unglamorous truth about podcasting is that most audio sounds best when recorded in a small room with dampened sound . . . like a closet, or a duvet studio.
You may also want to check with your local library to see if they have podcasting or recording space–especially if you have a university library nearby. Recording spaces in libraries is a growing trend in the States, and you might be surprised what local institutions can offer for free or a very low price per session.
Another key factor in your sound quality is just being aware of all of the weird noises your mouth makes. If your mouth is too dry, your voice will come out with weird clicks and an almost sticky quality. The same goes for if you're only hydrating with sugary drinks instead of water.
Think about how hard your “p,” “b,” or “t” sounds are hitting the mic. If you see these sounds peaking in your waveform, you might want to invest in a pop filter or orient your mic so it isn't directly in front of your mouth.
Don't Have a Podcast Just to Have a Podcast
Before you start your podcast, try to really think about why you want to make that podcast. Do you want to have one just because it's something people do?
Podcasts can be a fun hobby, but they take more work than they seem. A podcast that exists just to exist isn't going to stand out or make you famous; it's probably only going to waste your time and money.
Make sure that you have a purpose for your podcast before you start.
Maybe the purpose is feeling creatively fulfilled. Maybe it's a way to keep in touch with your co-host. Maybe you want to experiment with sound design and editing. Maybe it's because you really love something and want to connect with others who do too.
All of those are great reasons to make a podcast; it matters less what the purpose is, and more than you have one in the first place.
Having a reason behind your podcast will keep you passionate, and it'll keep your listeners invested.
Listeners will be able to tell when you're apathetic towards your podcast. Podcast listeners are dedicated to the medium, so you should be, too.
When planning for your podcast, you don't want to be part of the “Everybody has a podcast joke.” You want to make something you're proud of and stand out in the crowd.
Make sure you're allowing yourself rough drafts. They aren't just for writers, and they're a great way to work out the kinks before you really get started.
Be consistent in your upload schedule, your episode length, and your overall tone.
Listen to other podcasts to learn from them and make sure you're doing something special.
Make sure your audio quality is solid, even if that means recording with a blanket over your head.
Make sure you have a strong purpose for making a podcast so that you don't get burned out and your listener gets frustrated or bored with you.
Podcasting isn't as easy as everyone makes it out to be. It takes time and energy to make a show that stands out. By avoiding these common mistakes, though, you'll be on the right path to making something great.
Need More Help Launching Your Podcast?
If you'd like some support and guidance towards getting your podcast off on the best possible footing, then we'd love to work with you.
Inside The Podcast Host Academy we've got courses that'll help you avoid every potential pitfall mentioned here. From planning and productivity, to voice training and audio editing.
You can work through everything at your own time, and in your own pace. And you'll have the added benefit of getting regular live Q&A sessions with us for the more tailored, niche, and specific stuff too!